About a year ago, we tested the all-new ’22 Hyundai Tucson Limited HTRAC and were very impressed. Great looks, a luxurious interior, Hyundai’s best seller was a very desirable vehicle. Except, well, it was kind of ho-hum to drive.
But we know that Hyundai and its sibling Kia are making more and more interesting vehicles to drive – we were pretty sure an upgraded model was around the corner. And that model has just shown up on our driveway – a Tucson with the added oomph of a plug-in hybrid powertrain – more power and greater mpg, sounds like a recipe for fun. Let’s take a look.
You’d be hard pressed to find much styling difference between our Plug-in Hybrid model and the previous Limited we tested. And that’s a good thing – we think the Tucson is the best-looking vehicle in its class.
The front end sets the tone with the “parametric” grille featuring half-mirror daytime running lamps hidden inside, only visible when illuminated. Deep folds surround the design and start with angled nacelles for the front LED fogs that wrap around to the sides.
Follow those folds and you’ll find one of the most interesting profiles in SUV-dom.
Added width around the fender wells give a muscular stance, while sharp cutlines treat the eye serving up excitement from the roof rack down to the pronounced lower door lines. The finishing touch are the aggressive “throwing star” 19-inch alloy wheels.
The rear continues this museum of modern art with LED taillights and a full width taillamp that features half-concealed triangular shapes only visible when illuminated – similar to the front. For those with an eye for detail, you’ll see the Hyundai logo is elevated and integrated into the glass – a unique look.
While our previous tester was a tasteful Shimmering Silver, we think our Hybrid’s Amazon Gray that has a rich green tone running through it, is even more eye catching. It oozes class and luxury.
Luxury in Large Amounts
Like the outside, the inside is a Doppelganger for our non-hybrid Limited.
Well, you will notice a difference, our PHEV had a black interior, vs. the two-tone black and ivory of the previous model. While the two-tone is very elegant, in an SUV/Crossover that we’d be using every day, we’ll take the scuff and dirt hiding dark color.
Other than that, you still get the “Interspace” multi-layered design that creates a wide horizontal line, while the center stack is angled towards the driver to create a cozy, cockpit like effect.
The front leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and firm, reminding us of highly supportive German seats, and both driver and passenger thrones are heated and cooled, and enjoy power adjustment. The rear seats are one of the largest in the class with exceptional legroom, and they’re heated as well. With the rear seats up, cargo space is impressive and dropping them creates a massive cargo hold. This is a useful interior.
It’s also an upscale one. We love the digital gauge display – changing modes gets you a real difference, with traditional hybrid-style readouts in Smart and Eco modes. Pop it into Sport though, and the gauges turn red and you get a tachometer. Very cool.
Super useful, the gauge faces turn into displays from outside cameras when you signal for a turn or lane change. This kind of stuff started out on Hyundai’s Genesis luxury line and has migrated down to the Tucson. We love it. The unique horizontally styled steering wheel is becoming another signature item for Hyundai, and it is handsome.
There’s also a massive 10.25-inch touchscreen that blends with climate controls to create the appearance of a giant tablet, a la Tesla. Multiple swipes pull up information, and Hyundai’s info-tainment system is excellent, with a quick handshake and response.
As we noted on our previous tester, there are a couple stumbles. We’d like at least a volume control knob (Honda learned this lesson a couple years ago) and a tuning knob would be nice too. And the pushbutton transmission controls feel clunky. A standard shift lever suits us fine. At least the Tucson features paddle shifters on the steering wheel so when you want to hand shift, you can.
Power and Efficiency for the Win-Win
Here’s where the plug-in hybrid really makes a difference over the other Tucson models.
Under the hood the standard model’s 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder is replaced with Hyundai’s responsive 1.6-liter, turbocharged four that we’ve enjoyed in such vehicles like the Kona. But there’s more, as they say on late-night TV. The PHEV also adds a 59-horsepower electric motor. With a total 261 hp and 258 lb.-ft of torque, it storms ahead of the non-hybrid with 74 ponies and 80 torquies more.
And with turbo and electric power, that added muscle comes in at very low rpm. The good news continues with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which is much more enjoyable than most of the competitor’s CVT transmissions. Yes, CVT’s are better – we especially liked the one we tested in the new Subaru WRX – but we’ll still take a true automatic if we have a choice.
Put the transmission in Sport mode and the Tucson PHEV launches hard off the line and pulls hard all the way up to and beyond freeway speeds. Bad weather? Standard HTRAC all-wheel drive gives you added grip and confidence.
With a smooth engine and that seamless EV motor the Tucson feels exceptionally smooth as it goes about this rapid acceleration, making the SUV feel even richer and more refined. This is an advanced hybrid system, and the Tucson can kick over to efficient EV-only mode even at freeway speeds.
With a full-charge you can toddle around and go about 33 miles, which if you have a short commute and a light throttle foot might make buying gas a rare occasion. Charging is quick and can be handled in 2 hours. And with a combined EPA rating of 35 mpg with both gas and EV power, you’re getting great power and impressive fuel efficiency.
You could love the Hybrid just for the muscle and fuel-sipping ability, but the ride is supple and controlled, it’s whisper quiet, and the steering has good feel. It adds up to a fun time as you bend around a turn.
If there’s any negative to the driving experience, it’s a small one. Put the Tucson in Reverse and it emits a loud beep that makes people turn around and look for the UPS truck that isn’t there. Ugh.
Heavy Cost for the PHEV Powertrain?
Let’s take a look.
Keeping in mind that both of our recent Tucson testers were the top-of-the-line Limited models, this should be pretty easy. Our Limited PHEV (plug-in hybrid) carried a base price $42,700. Add floor mats ($195) and Destination ($1,245) and we rang the bell at $44,140. A comparable non-hybrid Tucson Limited comes in at $38,700. So, it’s a little more than $5400 for the upgrade to hybrid.
With the new laws, it’s not clear if the Tucson PHEV model is eligible for tax credits, so we left it out of our considerations. But if it eligible, that’s an important bump.
Based on the savings in fuel economy, you’ll probably come close to making up that difference in a few years – especially if gas prices stay at nose-bleed levels. And if you can charge at inexpensive times and use the EV part of the PHEV those savings might increase. Those are the hard numbers, but we’d happily plump for the PHEV anyway, the performance is markedly superior, the overall driving experience is nicer, and it makes one of the most handsome and luxurious smaller SUV’s even better than before.
The strongest PHEV competitor would be the RAV4 Prime. It’s a bit pricier at $46,795, but it has excellent driving dynamics. We’d say that it boils down to your personal taste – futuristic and lux Hyundai, or rugged and trucky Toyota. Both excellent ways to enjoy plug-in hybrid technology.
With great looks, loads of equipment and awesome performance with efficiency, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited PHEV is the best choice in the exciting Tucson lineup!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.